THE IMPORTANCE OF KNOWN LANGUAGES IN INTERCULURAL WORSHIP
Hardly anybody will disagree that meaningful worship depends to a large extend upon the use of known languages in intercultural services of worship. Leaders and policymakers of intercultural services of worship will do well to remind themselves from time to time why language plays such an important role in the worship experience of participants. Some reasons for the use of well known languages in intercultural worship services are for example:
- People hear and understand the Word of God better in their own or other well known languages.
- People communicate more personal and intense with God and others in their own or well known language. .
- People worship God easier and more heartfelt in their own vernacular or well known language.
- People feel more at ease with fellow members of the church or visiting strangers if they can easily communicate with them in a known language. Fellowship depends largely upon the ability to understand one another.
- Using different languages in services communicate to people that they have been thought of and seen. Speaking someone’s heart language communicates honor, humility, and respect.
- Known words are not neutral or convey only information. Words and language have creative power. Words understood, influence people. It can harm or build them up (Eph.4:29) and can change attitude and behaviour. Known words inform and “perform” when they are being used in language. Israel Galindo: “In a faith community, language serves a formative function and is one indicator that a congregation is a genuine community of faith. That is, the community’s idiom – consisting of its vocabulary, patterns of speech, spoken rituals and rites (like blessings and prayers)-functions in ways that shape the faith of its members.” Since language and words are such a normal and continues part of our lives, we are not always aware of the tremendous impact it has on the way we think, feel and behave. The transformation of Christians and congregations will however always includes change in the language of the individuals and the congregation. Language will give expression to and shape the new identity and behaviour of transformed Christians and congregations.
Intercultural churches who strive for meaningful and blessed services of worship, will make a deliberate effort to develop language policies and practises which will promote fellowship with God and men and will enhance the performative power of language in their midst.
THE MANAGEMENT OF DIFFERENT LANGUAGES IN INTERCULTURAL SERVICES OF WORSHIP
Policies and practices regarding the use of languages during service of worship depend largely upon the existence or not of a language which the majority of members understand (even if it is not their mother tongue) and the size of the groups who speak different languages.
The following techniques may be considered to manage bi-lingual or multi-lingual services of worship:
Use a language known by all.
If all the members in the congregation understand a certain language although it is not the mother tongue of all the participants, the leadership could consider to conduct the service of worship in that language. Such an approach should however allow that certain aspects of the service could be done in the vernacular of the peoples present (for example the singing, prayers and liturgical creeds). Language groups should however from time to time be allowed to meet for fellowship and worship in their mother tongue. The use of a data projector to give a translation of the different aspects of the service and a summary of the sermon in the other language(s) can assist a lot to ensure that all present know what is happening although they may not understand all the spoken words.
Many people assume that if people from different language groups can speak and understand one common language, they all will therefore prefer the use of that language in the services of worship. For example the use of English, Portuguese, Spanish or a trade language which all people who participate in the worship, may understand. This is however not always the case! There are examples where people preferred the translation of the services of worship in their own vernacular even though the members of different language groups in the service all understand one common language. In one congregation for example the Xhosa and Afrikaans speaking groups preferred the use of a translator instead of conducting the service in English which most of them understood fairly well.
Use only two mayor languages
Consider it to conduct the service in only two major languages if all members know at least one of the two languages fairly well. In such a case an able translator may be the best solution to assist with the communication between the worship leader (one language) and the congregation (two languages). Using more than one translator put a lot of stress on all who participate in the service: preacher, translators and members.
If the preacher or worship leader is fluent in both languages, he/she can conduct the whole service while using the two languages alternatively. The challenge is to switch languages and repeat key sentences often enough so that the people could still follow the speaker although they do not understand everything.
A variation of this approach is to conduct the service in more than one language, but do the preaching in only one language at a time. If the preacher can speak both languages, he/she may preach the same sermon in two languages, the one sermon following the other. Two different people can also be used to conduct the preaching in two different sermons during the same service. In such a case the group who cannot follow the preaching could get an “assignment” for the duration of the preaching, for example:
- People can be asked to read and reflect on the passage which will be (have been) preached or on a related passage.
- A few questions could be given to them to answer in the light of a given passage.
- Intercession for specific people or projects could also be done in that time.
Use dominant language and only another one
If one language is dominant but small groups of different languages also attend the services, it can be considered to use the dominant language and translate everything in the language which most other people may understand even if it is not their vernacular. In South Africa such a language may be English and in Mozambique it may be Portuguese.
Use several translators at the same time
Congregations which can afford the technical layout and have the necessary expertise available, may also consider it to use several translators to do translation during the service while people use earphones to participate in the service. This method could be very useful if there are several smaller language groups in a congregation.
Provision for translation for small groups who do not understand the language used in the service of worship could be made by grouping the different language groups in small groups with a translator who translates softly to them throughout the service. This can only be done if it is possible for such groups to sit far enough from the others not to disturb them, for example on the gallery.
Use data projector/printed sheet for a second or more languages
Conduct the service mainly in one language, but give a translation of the different parts of the service on a data projector or a printed sheet. Hymns, Bible texts, prayers, liturgical forms, sermon, announcements etc. are all made available in another language (s) by means of a data projector or hand out. People responsible for different parts of a service of worship can be made responsible to prepare power points or information for a printed sheet about their contributions.
VERBAL LANGUAGE IS EMBEDDED IN ANS SUPPORTED BY OHTER FORMS OF COMMUNICATION
It is important to remember that verbal communication is not the only, or always the most important, modus of communication in services of worship. Other important forms of communication are also present, knowingly or unknowingly. The communication which takes place, or fail to take place through other means than words, may strengthen, intensified, damage or destroy the verbal communication in a known language. Worship leaders need to take at least the following forms of communication seriously in planning and conducting intercultural services of worship:
Non verbal body language
We continuously give and receive wordless signals when we interact with other people. We are not always aware of the signals we receive or give in our interaction. All our nonverbal behaviors constantly send messages to others and we are also constantly receiving and interpreting nonverbal behaviour of others. In a multicultural context the possibility is very big that someone from one culture can attach a total wrong or even harmful meaning to nonverbal behaviour of someone from another culture. This may happen because of ignorance or due to the temptation to interpret the behaviour of others in terms of one’s own culture or culture preference.
It is therefore important for worship leaders to get a clear picture of the nonverbal meaning which different culture groups attach to behaviour such as specific gestures or facial expressions, eye contact, movements and posture, space, tempo, loudness, silence and physical contact. It is important that nonverbal communication confirms, strengthens and broadens the verbal communication. A deliberate effort should be made to ensure that the verbal and nonverbal communication of idees, feelings and intentions are the same. In most cases listeners will believe and respond to the nonverbal communication if they have to choose between conflicting verbal and non-verbal messages. The fact that different culture groups may know and use a common language, does not guarantee good communication.
Visual and symbolic language
People who speak different languages are usually able to communicate certain thoughts, concepts, feelings or intentions through visual aids or symbols to people who do not understand their language. It is wise to use visual aids and symbols in intercultural worship to convey, strengthen or broaden specific messages between participants in the worship.
Visual aids and symbols do not only assist with the communication itself, but it can also play an important role to create a safe space and an encouraging climate for deep and real communication. People who see for example symbols which are familiar to them when they join an intercultural community, or are provided with visual aids to explain the liturgy and sequence of liturgy for them, may relax, feel acknowledged and respected. They may therefore be more open and motivated to participate in any form of communication during the worship.